Review: ‘The Burning Sea,’ starring Kristine Kujath Thorp, Henrik Bjelland, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Anders Baasmo, and Bjørn Floberg and Anneke von der Lippe

March 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Henrik Bjelland, Kristine Kujath Thorp and Rolf Kristian Larsen in “The Burning Sea” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Burning Sea”

Directed by John Andreas Andersen

Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the action film “The Burning Sea” features an all-white cast representing the working-class and middle-class during an aquatic catastrophe.

Culture Clash: An offshore underwater robotics worker races against time to find out what’s causing the destruction of ships and oil rigs in the North Sea.

Culture Audience: “The Burning Sea” will appeal primarily to people who like watching predictable and mediocre disaster movies.

A scene from “The Burning Sea” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Burning Sea” is a formulaic disaster flick with no imagination or engaging personalities. Viewers can easily predict what happens and then quickly forget the movie. “The Burning Sea” tries to make social commentary about the dangers of pillaging the environment, but the movie’s environmental message is cheapened by too many stupid scenarios.

Directed by John Andreas Andersen and written by Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Lars Gudmestad, “The Burning Sea” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Norway) is one of those disaster movies where viewers find out within the first 10 minutes who are supposed to be the “heroes” of the story. These “hero” characters are the ones that audiences are supposed to root for the most to survive the environmental catastrophe that takes place in the movie. Anderson also directed the 2018 disaster flick “The Quake,” which was written by Rosenløw-Eeg and John Kåre Raake, the screenwriting duo behind director Roar Uthaug’s 2015 tidal-wave disaster flick “The Wave.” All of three of these movies wallow in corny clichés instead of the creative realism that would make this type of disaster movie more riveting and impactful.

How do you know who’s going to survive in “The Burning Sea”? Let’s just say that certain people in the movie unrealistically escape death in the middle of explosions that kill other people. There’s also a scene that takes place deep underneath the North Sea, where no one is wearing the correct underwater gear to survive, but certain people survive anyway with no damage to their respiratory system. “The Burning Sea” is very careless with basic details.

This 104-minute movie wastes a lot of time in the first 20 minutes showing the somewhat dull routine of protagonist Sofia Hartman (played by Kristine Kujath Thorp) and her co-worker Arthur (played by Rolf Kristian Larsen), who work at Eelume Offshore Robotics, where they test and operate underwater robots. The robots are designed to perform tasks, such as go underwater for rescue missions or retrieve things in underwater places that might be too dangerous or inaccessible to people. Sofia and Arthur are platonic friends who respect each other.

Unfortunately, the personalities of all the people in “The Burning Sea” are incredibly generic. Sofia has been dating an oil-rig worker named Stian Helseth (played by Henrik Bjelland) for the past nine months. Stian is a single father to a son named Odin (played by Nils Elias Olsen), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. The movie doesn’t mention what happened to Odin’s mother, but it’s made clear that Odin’s mother is not in their lives.

Sofia and Stian are in a happy relationship, and she gets along well with Odin. However, Stian is more willing than Sofia to make the commitment of living together. At work, when Arthur and Sofia talk about her relationship with Stian, Arthur predicts that Sofia will eventually move in with Stian. Sofia says she wants to keep her independence: “I have my life, and he has his. Works like a charm.”

Stian and his brother Ronny Helseth (played by Anders Baasmo, also known as Anders Baasmo Christiansen) work together on an oil rig owned by a company called Hansen. Ronny is married to a woman named Vibeke (played by Mariann Rostøl), who appears briefly in the beginning of the film during a family get-together. The characters in “The Burning Sea” are so bland that the movie doesn’t bother to show anything unique about this family.

One day, Sofia and Arthur are called to bring their robots to the scene of an “accident” involving the oil-rigging M/5 Norman Maximum Subsea Supply Ship. An oil-rig emergency manager named William Lie (played by Bjørn Floberg) tells Sofia and Arthur why the ship is in danger: “A platform has gone down, most likely due to a local subsidence of the sea floor.”

There are people trapped inside, and the underwater robots are needed for the search and rescue. During this rescue mission, Sofia finds leaking gas. She correctly predicts that the ship will explode. At least eight people die during this tragedy.

The center of the movie’s disaster takes place an untold number of days later. It’s at an oil rig on a platform called Gullfaks A, which is located in the North Sea, about 220 kilometers (or 137 miles) from the coast of Norway. A massive explosion causes the oil rig to collapse and kill people who were on the rig. The explosion also ignites a raging fire that’s rapidly spreading across the North Sea. What really caused this explosion?

Meanwhile, William is also the liaison for the officials involved in this investigation, including Norway’s oil and energy minister Steiner Skagemo (played by Christoffer Staib) and a leader only identified as Gunn (played by Anneke von der Lippe), who works at Saga Stavenger, the headquarters of offshore operations. William tells people that the explosion on the supply ship was caused by gas leakage. However, Sofia thinks that it was more than just leaked gas that caused this catastrophe. And there’s a “race against time” to find out when the other explosion hits Gullfaks A.

William knows a lot more than he’s willing to tell certain people. A big clue about what he knows is in the movie’s opening scene, when he is shown saying this monologue: “I started working in the North Sea at 18. That was in ’71. The oil business paid well. We had no idea what we were getting involved with. Zero training. Just follow the Americans. If they said, “Go left,’ we went left.”

William continues, “I remember it was dangerous back then. But it was a risk we were willing to take … Everyone made money. But it’s like driving a car. Drive too fast for too long, and it will never end well. ‘A risk of undesirable incidents,’ we call it in the business.”

In a disaster movie with an environmental message about drilling in the sea for oil, you know exactly what all of this means and who will suffer from the consequences. The rest of “The Burning Sea” plays out exactly like other hackneyed disaster flicks where the government officials are inept, and it’s up to “everyday people” to be the heroes and save others. Because “The Burning Sea” follows this over-used formula too closely and has drab characters and uninteresting dialogue, there’s almost no suspense in watching this movie.

None of the acting is special. The directing is unremarkable. Everything in “The Burning Sea” is just a rehash of scenarios and story arcs from other disaster movies that have much better plots, characters and action scenes. “The Burning Sea” might be enjoyable to people who are bored or who have very low standards for what they think are exciting action movies. Everyone else can find plenty of more thrilling movies elsewhere.

Magnet Releasing released “The Burning Sea” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 25, 2022. The movie was released in Norway in 2021.

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